Commentary

The real Derby stories

Updated: May 7, 2012, 3:16 PM ET
By Jay Cronley | Special to ESPN.com

The Kentucky Derby beat "The Avengers" over the weekend.

More money was bet on the Derby than was spent by all the geeks in the world, a pretty impressive happenstance.

Now here's something about the TV ratings.

Television shows are rated by sets turned on in homes. Talk about debatable science. Sets can be on without being watched. And some viewers flip channels on live commercials and fast-forward through advertisements on recorded TV shows, so much for numbers translating into sales.

Television shows are watched where you dwell. Period. Great crowds don't gather in field houses to watch "Parks and Recreation." You won't see "Smash" on a screen in a sports bar. You watch stuff like "The Good Wife" season finale in your living room while hoping Kalinda's ex-husband returns in the first show of next season to seek appropriate revenge.

Television shows are watched where you dwell. Period. Great crowds don't gather in field houses to watch "Parks and Recreation."

Some sporting events are not watched primarily in the home. Yet all sporting events are rated in the home. Doesn't make sense, does it? Major horse racing events such as the Triple Crown and Breeder's Cup are viewed by fans less frequently in their homes than is the case with any other sport. Kentucky Derby day, Breeder's Cup day, Belmont Stakes day with a horse having a chance for the Triple Crown -- people who enjoy horse racing the most are at the racetracks. Places such as Saratoga are wall-to-wall with people on Derby day. The same at "Podunk Downs." Fans are at the simulcast venues. They are at the sports books. They are at sports bars. They are at parties. Only a fraction of horse racing's best fans are rated. If half the horse race enthusiasts were home with their televisions tuned to the Kentucky Derby, instead of being at unrated tracks and off-track betting establishments, horse racing numbers would be through the Twin Spires and into the troposphere. In the current knucklehead system, horse racing attracts aspersions from buffoon critics for being so popular.

Just know that when you hear a media critic say that the sport is in decline or that the ratings are off, you're listening to somebody who doesn't know what he or she is talking about.

The rating for this Kentucky Derby was 9. Nine percent of all homes were tuned to the race. This is an amazingly great mid-afternoon number, given that the sport's best people were not measured. True, some prefer to bet and watch at home on the Internet to avoid the mobs. But if you added up all the people who watched the Kentucky Derby -- the record crowd of 165,000 at Churchill Downs, the overflow crowds at all the live racing sites, the huge TV audience, the packed houses at the hundreds of simulcast venues such as casinos and off-track horse betting houses -- it would be hard to find a sporting event watched more than this Derby.

About the race itself, I would like to take a moment to remind the trainers and jockeys that there are people out here who expect more than what met the eye Saturday. My top two picks, Creative Cause and Union Rags, finished fifth and seventh, respectively. I thought Creative Cause had won the race. Then it did what it always does, which is fan wide on the turn coming for home. In all its races to date, this horse has had to have lost 20 lengths trying the second corner. And Union Rags, come on, get the horse out of the lousy gate. True, I have never ridden in a thoroughbred horse race, but I have been on a horse named Molasses at a dude ranch in Wyoming. One morning on a trail ride near the Tetons, we came upon a protective mother moose and her offspring. And I got the old horse off the trail and up a hill faster than Union Rags got out of the gate. The only chance you have with an inside post at the Derby is, as everybody knows, a quick getaway.

And now the annual post-Derby empty-headedness starts. Speed wins the shorter Preakness. If you can close at the Derby, you'll be great in New York. The opposite is the case. This is a recording. The opposite is the case. And if you saw the Derby, smile, you could have been a part of one of the most-watched American sporting events ever.

Write to Jay at jaycronley@yahoo.com.